26 Feb 2015

DNA analysis shows "Slovenian" dolphins are somewhat special

Morigenos researchers participated in the most detailed study on genetic structure of dolphins in the Mediterranean Sea to date. It turns out that dolphins off Slovenia, studied by Morigenos over the past 13 years, are genetically divergent from the rest in the Adriatic Sea. 

The study, involving scientists from Italy, Croatia, Greece, Israel, UK and Slovenia, was published last week in the renowned scientific journal Evolutionary Biology. Geneticists and biologists used molecular methods to study genetic relationships among populations of bottlenose dolphins in the Mediterranean, and determine the factors and processes that shape genetic structure and geographic distribution in this species. DNA analysis included 194 tissue samples of bottlenose dolphins, collected between 1992 and 2011 in the Adriatic, Tyrrhenian, Ionian, Aegean and Levantine Seas, including samples from Slovenia. The study, led by scientists from the University of Florence (Italy) and the University of Lincoln (UK), represents the most comprehensive and detailed study of its kind in the Mediterranean.

Results suggest that bottlenose dolphins colonised the Mediterranean after the last Ice Age, about 18,000 years ago – the analysis of genetic material enabled the researchers to determine the approximate evolutionary timeline. The study was also the first to demonstrate the presence of a "pelagic" or "offshore" form of bottlenose dolphins in the Mediterranean, apart from the already known "coastal" form.

Apart from providing important insights into the evolution and distribution of dolphins in the Mediterranean, information on genetic population structure is also vital for effective conservation. For Slovenia, the most interesting result is the fact that dolphins in Slovenia and the Gulf of Trieste appear to be genetically different from other local populations in the Adriatic Sea. This alone demonstrates the importance of protecting and conserving this dolphin population.

The study received a considerable media coverage, including Science Daily, Discovery News, Nature World News, Fox News, Live Science and others.

The paper is available here: Scientific publications

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